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New York sues Bellport wholesaler, alleging price-gouging for disinfectants

New York Attorney General Letitia James said Quality

New York Attorney General Letitia James said Quality King charged consumers as much as $16.99 for a can of Lysol disinfectant that previously sold for between $5 and $8. Credit: AP/Mary Altaffer

New York state is suing a Bellport wholesaler and its CEO, accusing them of price-gouging consumers on disinfectants used liberally during the pandemic, state Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday.

The suit comes less than two years after the company, Quality King Distributors Inc., received a $675,000 expansion grant from Empire State Development's Long Island office.

The lawsuit claims that Quality King and CEO Glenn Nussdorf illegally increased the wholesale prices on Lysol disinfectant products to neighborhood grocery and discount stores between January and April. It claims the price of a 19-ounce spray can went from about $4.25 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit to as much as $9.15 per can — even though, James said in a statement, the company didn't incur any increased costs for the product.

As a result, James said, consumers were charged as much as $16.99 for a can of Lysol disinfectant that previously sold for between $5 and $8.

 In a written statement, Quality King spokesman Pat Werblin said the company would fight the suit in court, saying: "costs to keep the supply chain open have materially increased in many ways including the costs of implementing protective measures to preserve the health and safety of Quality King’s employees."

According to the attorney general's complaint: "And while Quality King has asserted to the NYAG that it experienced certain increased costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic, those purported costs do not account for its increases in the price of Lysol."

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Asked to reconcile the two statements, Werblin said: "We will address all of the Attorney General's allegations to the court at the proper time." 

The lawsuit claims Quality King sold more than 46,000 cans during the span in question. It seeks restitution from the wholesaler for consumers James said were forced to pay unlawfully high prices.

James said the wholesaler also gouged on the sale of Lysol disinfectant wipes.

"Quality King's profiteering during this time of crisis is appalling," James said in a statement.

She added: "Instead of ensuring New Yorkers could protect themselves from this virus and stop the spread, Quality King chose to prey on a global pandemic to line its own pockets."

In July 2018, Quality King received the state grant for an expansion project that created 47 jobs in Bellport, according to a Newsday story then.

The story noted that Quality King, a privately held distributor of more than 5,000 health and beauty products and grocery items, employed more than 900 in Bellport and a smaller facility in Ronkonkoma. It said the grant would be used to make improvements that included 10,000 square feet of new office space in its 560,000-quare-foot Bellport building, as well as the installation of rooftop solar panels.

The goal of the grant, the Empire State Development's Long Island office said at the time, was to make Quality King "more globally competitive."

The lawsuit alleges that between Feb. 1 and April 7, Quality King sold Lysol spray "with gouged prices" in at least 432 transactions, accounting for the sale of a minimum of 3,835 12-packs. James did not detail the alleged inflated prices for wipes.

The lawsuit against Quality King is part of what James said was a broader investigation by her office into price-gouging by wholesalers and retail stores during the pandemic.

She said that since February, consumers had submitted thousands of complaints to the attorney general's office claiming to have been charged excessive prices for "necessary products" during the crisis, including disinfectants, sanitizers, household paper products and food staples.

With James T. Madore and Matthew Chayes

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